Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Australia

It has been a while since I enjoyed some Tsebhi Sega and D'Nish Zigni as part of my challenge to prepare a main course from Eritrea.  That was a difficult challenge, because finding and authenticating recipes used in Eritrean cuisine is not very easy.  Now, I face a new challenge that, once again, takes me across the world.  I find myself with the challenge of making a main course from Australia.  

In some respects, this challenge is just as hard as the challenge to cook a main course from Eritrea, Bhutan or Paraguay.  What is Australian cuisine?  For most Americans, thoughts of Outback Steakhouse or Shrimp on the Barbie come to mind.  Obviously, I want to do more with this personal culinary challenge.  I thought about incorporating Aboriginal or Native Australian cuisine into this challenge.  I had a problem: it was difficult to find some of the ingredients used in native dishes.  I did a fair amount of research; however, I eventually relented, setting aside the idea of making a Native Australian dish as part of this challenge. 


But, that still leaves me with picking a main course from Australian cuisine.  I ultimately chose a dish that has an interesting history ... Carpetbag Steak.  This dish did not originate in Australia; instead, it originated in the United States.  According to the Food Timeline, oysters were considered a luxury in the nineteenth century, and cooks combined them with a lot of different ingredients.  The first recipes began to appear in American cookbooks in the late nineteenth century. The recipe went by different names -- such as Stewed Steak wtih Oysters or Steak with Oysters -- and usually involved cooking the oysters on top or outside of the steak. 

Around the turn of the twentieth century, someone introduced the dish to Australia, where it became popular.  As early as 1905, the recipe began to appear in cookbooks such as The Goulburn Cookery Book, Ms. Forster Rutledge (The National Trust: Sydney, Australia) and The Shauer Cookery Book, Misses A. and M. Schauer (Edwards, Dunlop & Co.: Brisbane & Sydney, Australia).  These recipes generally followed the same pattern: find a thick cut of steak (either a filet mignon or a strip steak), make an incision in the steak, insert the oysters, sew up the steak, and cook or grill the steak until it was done. 

The combination of oysters and steak happens to bring together two of my most favorite ingredients.  So, I decided to make this dish as a part of my personal culinary challenge.  I could have followed those old recipes, but I found a more recent recipe for Carpetbag Steak posted on Whats4Eats.  This recipe added another dimension to the dish, namely a sauce.  The steak is stuffed with oysters and pan-seared until cooked.  The steak is removed from the pan, the pan is removed from the flame,  and either brandy or cognac is added.  This is the start of the sauce.  Beef stock is latter added along with butter as a thickener.  I thought the idea of being able to serve the Carpetbag Steak with a sauce would elevate what is already a  luxurious dish.  The one thing I changed with respect to the recipe is that I did not use brandy or cognac.  I did not have either liquor on hand and did not want to spend the money on them because I do not drink hard liquor.  So, I decided to use something far more Australian ... Shiraz wine ... to produce a red wine sauce that could be drizzled over the steak once it is served.

Recipe from Whats4Eats
Serves 4

4 thick cuts of filet mignon or New York strip steaks
8 to 10 oysters, cleaned and shucked
1/4 cup of Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1/4 cup of cognac or brandy (or red wine)
1 cup of beef stock
4 tablespoons of butter at room temperature
Salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste

1.  Prepare the steak and oysters. Using a thin boning knife, cut a small incision into the side of each stage just big enough to insert the oysters.  Move the knife back and forth inside each steak to create a pocket.  In a bowl, mix together the oysters, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice and salt and pepper to season.  Set aside to marinate for at least thirty minutes.

2.  Stuff the steaks.  Pour a little of the marinade into each pocket and stuff each steak with two or three oysters.  Secure the opening with toothpicks and let the steaks rest at room temperature for about thirty minutes to allow the flavors to meld.

3.  Cook the steaks.   Heat the oil in a large skillet or saute pan over medium-high heat until it just starts to smoke.  Season each steak with salt or pepper. Sear the steaks in the hot oil, letting them cook for about three minutes per side for medium-rare.  To make them more well done, reduce the flame to medium and cook for another two or three minutes for medium, or another four to six minutes for well done.  These times will vary depending upon the thickness of the steaks.

4.  Make the sauce.  Place the steaks on warm plates while you make the sauce.  Remove the skillet or saute plan from the flame and carefully pour in the cognac or brandy (or wine).  Return the pan to the medium flame and heat, scraping up any bits from the bottom until almost evaporated.  Then add the beef stock and simmer to reduce its volume by one-half.  (I added a few oysters to cook in the sauce while it was reducing.)  Remove from heat, adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper and whisk in the butter.  

5.  Plate the dish.  Serve the steaks with a little of the sauce poured over each steak.

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Overall, this was a good dish.  I think that the steak was prepared well.  I really liked the oysters stuffed inside of the strip steak.  I would probably work a little more on developing the sauce, maybe adding some oyster liqueur or using the cognac/brandy when making the sauce.  This is the great thing about cooking, there is always something more that can be done.  Until next time...


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